Donkey Kong (NES)

Donkey Kong Box Art

Donkey Kong

System: NES

Release Date: June 1986

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Platformer

It’s 1986 and it’s the summer of Donkey Kong. Of the seven games to come out in June 1986, four of them are Donkey Kong games. Let’s take a look at the real granddaddy of ‘em all, Donkey Kong. This is the first appearance of everyone’s favorite plumber, Mario. With some of the NES releases, I feel like he was more of a construction worker than a plumber. Here he can wield a hammer like in Wrecking Crew. Donkey Kong features a loop of three rounds to play through.

RIP Mario, he was killed by a sentient fireball.

The premise of the game is that Donkey Kong is into Pauline and grabs her, climbing a building to keep her away from her boyfriend. Mario. The arcade version shows Donkey Kong destroying the building, but the NES version just starts Mario out next to a bunch of warped steel girders to climb. Donkey Kong uses his favorite weapon, the barrel, to try and kill Mario and stop him from reaching his girlfriend. If Mario gets hit by one of these barrels, he does indeed die as can be seen by the halo over his dead corpse.

Mario wielding his hammer in round one.


Mario needs to get by on his wits and jumping prowess. That’s right. Even if he lost his ability to jump in Wrecking Crew, he still had it in the earlier developed, but later published for the NES, Donkey Kong. He’s not completely defenseless though. Throughout the first and third rounds, Mario can find a hammer which allows him to destroy both barrels and living fireballs. Once Mario reaches the top girder, Donkey Kong grabs Pauline and moves up to round two.

Hopping girders to reach Pauline in round two.


Round two is less enemy filled and is more a platforming and timing test. There are a couple living fireballs, climbing ladders, looking to end Mario’s life and an endless supply of bouncing jacks that create the timing puzzle. The thing about Mario in this game is he can’t fall further than his height without dying. That means you have to stick to the set path of girder jumping and be mindful of the timing with the ascending and descending girders. At the end of the stage, you need to stand under the jack arc as it jumps by or die.

Formulating a plan at the start of round three.

The last round tasks you with removing eight golden bolts from the structure to cause Donkey Kong to fall to his doom. You have to worry about living fireballs which will follow you around the stage and make your life a little more difficult. You can always grab a hammer and impose your will that they disperse.

The evil ape has been defeated!


People really love Donkey Kong. It’s been the subject of the documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The movie is about the controversy of the guys who held and competed for the high score world record on the original arcade version. How anyone could spend the hundreds and thousands of hours it would take to become a true expert at Donkey Kong is beyond me. Pick a game that’s fun.

Graphics: 1.5

The graphics aren’t good. They stick pretty closely to the 1981 arcade release and are very similar to Wrecking Crew. No real upgrades five years later doesn’t do the game any favors.

Sound: 1.5

I don’t have much love for the sound either, especially the spring jumping around in round two. The opening is iconic at all, but only because it’s old.

Gameplay: 2.0

Jumping works, the hammer works. I’m sure there’s a pattern to where barrels go in round one. But I don’t have time for that. Plain, average gameplay gets a plain, average score.

Difficulty: 2.0

It’s easy enough to understand and the only way to make it harder is for everything move faster, which is artificial difficulty in my book,

Fun Factor: 1.0

I don’t find much fun in Donkey Kong, I’m sure I’d feel differently in 1982, but even in 1986, This game was old news.

Overall Grade: 1.6

Donkey Kong gets a very generous C-. The home port is worse than the arcade version, which although it is important to novel in history, isn’t great.

Donkey Kong Video Review on YouTube

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